Oxford on Diacritics.

Jenny List had an amusing piece some years ago for the Oxford Dictionaries blog about diacritics, starting by saying you might think they’re not needed for English, and continuing:

But as any halfway observant child would tell you, what about the café down the road? Or the jalapeño peppers you and your fiancée enjoyed on your à la carte pizza, brought to you by a garçon? Washed down with a refreshing pint of Löwenbräu while reading a Brontë novel, no doubt. Or perhaps you’re not as naïve as all that, dreaming as you were of a ménage à trois. No, that’s probably a bit risqué, not to mention too much of a cliché. For somewhere so supposedly devoid of diacritic marks on our letters, we do seem to see an awful lot of them.

Of course, the English language has appropriated so many words from other languages that it would be extremely surprising were some of them to manage the transition unscathed. Most words gradually lose their accents on Anglicization; cafe is a perfect example of this as its occurrence without the accent is slowly overtaking that of café. Our lexicographers use the Oxford English Corpus to track the relative use of diacritic marks when deciding upon the preferred form of an imported word. Other words have left their diacritics behind completely, such as muesli (which has lost its umlaut on the u) or canyon (which is an Anglicization of the Spanish word cañon). Sometimes a word will retain its accent to preserve the pronunciation thus bestowed or to settle any ambiguity between the imported word and a similarly spelled existing English word. Thus we find maté and mate or the three outwardly similar but completely different words pâté, pâte, and pate. Occasionally we even encounter the same word entering English by two completely different routes, such as rosé and rose or the unexpected souffle and soufflé. Who knew that omitting that final e-acute could put you in hospital!

Some of our most familiar diacritics appear in brand names. Most of us will have eaten Nestlé chocolate (or perhaps even drunk Nescafé coffee) or imbibed copious quantities of umlaut-bespeckled German beers, but not I hope before driving away in a Škoda or a Citroën. As an aside, given the treatment his surname receives from most Brits, it should be stressed that the pronunciation of that last trema on the ‘e’ is important: cars from the company founded by André Citroën are not lemons.

She goes on to talk about Häagen-Dazs ice-cream, Gü puddings, and the metal umlaut; as for André Citroën, we discussed the history of his name back in 2008 — his cars may not have been lemons, but the Citroëns were originally Limoenmans.

Comments

  1. Regrettably she misses a diacritic in “cañón”…

  2. Of course, diacritics only seem to apply to European languages…

  3. You can spell it müsli or muesli, but müesli would be abhominable.

  4. For me, naive has taken on enough of an assimilated English character (like role, formerly rôle) that it looks better without the dieresis. And I definitely prefer naivety over naïveté, in both writing and speech. As for é, I think it can serve a useful purpose as a sort of xenographeme to clarify that an e isn’t silent (an original English use of this being saké), so I’d keep it in café – and I even lean toward a split-the-difference resumé.

    One thing that really seems to flummox English speakers, though, is the gendered e found in fiancé(e): people mix those up so often – at a rate seemingly even worse than chance – that I find myself pleasantly surprised when they don’t. I guess we should just abandon the extra e, but for whatever reason I feel more reluctant to drop a whole letter. (And you see a similar issue with blonde applied to men. Myself, I’d even limit blonde to the nominal usage, so that, as it were, a blonde would be blond. It’s one thing to accept silently gendered nouns, but adjectives just seem like a step too far.)

  5. I wonder if café would be losing its accent so fast if there was a *cafe (rhymes with “safe”) to compete with.

  6. <rant>

    Thus we find maté

    Which, to anyone even slightly familiar with Spanish spelling conventions, is abominable, as it wrongly suggests the word has final stress.

    If there’s a need to distinguish it from mate /meɪt/, the logical choice would be *matë (as in Zoë, Chloë, Brontë). Of course, expecting logic from English spelling would be… misguided.
    </rant>

  7. David Marjanović says:

    You can spell it müsli or muesli, but müesli would be abhominable.

    Swiss German is, in actual fact, abominable enough to have diphthongs that end up written as ie, ue, üe, and the last one is present in this word. The regular Standard cognate would be *Müslein, diminutive of Mus “edible mush”.

    But yeah, it almost always ends up as Müsli outside of Switzerland.

    BTW, Mus has also spawned the collective Gemüse, which nowadays means exclusively “vegetable(s)” and has become countable (though without acquiring a plural ending).

    saké

    Pokémon.

  8. > cars from the company founded by André Citroën are not lemons.

    Though some Volkswagens, infamously, were.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    Lazar: fiancé(e): people mix those up so often

    when they don’t spell it finance ! (but that could be from Spellcheck).

    There is also fianceé (and similar with other -ée words, as in Reneé).

  10. For me, naive has taken on enough of an assimilated English character (like role, formerly rôle) that it looks better without the dieresis.

    And most current dictionaries agree with you; I routinely excise the dieresis in that word in the course of my editing work.

  11. Graham Asher says:

    “I wonder if café would be losing its accent so fast if there was a *cafe (rhymes with “safe”) to compete with.”

    There is. A cafe, pronounced /keif/ and rhyming with safe, is a downmarket café in the UK, although the word is less commonly heard now than formerly.

  12. Michael Eochaidh says:

    Ah, the metal umlaut. Back in the eighties when I went to school in the Cincinnati area, the Hopple Street exit on I-75 always had an umlaut spray-painted over the o. This was near Vine Street, where a couple of musical venues were. For instance, I saw punk umlaut band Hüsker Dü over at Bogart’s in ’86 or ’87.

    I have to admit I was disappointed that the umlaut was gone when I visited Cincinnati last year.

  13. > A cafe, pronounced /keif/ and rhyming with safe, is a downmarket café in the UK

    I have lived in the UK for decades and never heard that. Perhaps you are thinking of “caff”.

  14. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    A cafe, pronounced /keif/ and rhyming with safe, is a downmarket café in the UK, although the word is less commonly heard now than formerly.

    Caff ([kæf]) also exists: even more downmarket.

  15. And surely in Switzerland you’d have to interpret Müsli as “small mouse”?
    (I realise Müüsli would be a more obvious spelling of that word)

  16. Michael Eochaidh: I envy your getting to see Hüsker Dü live at their peak! I had to content myself with running out and buying their new LPs. (I did get to see the Minutemen.)

    By the way, may I ask how Eochaidh is pronounced? I want to say /oχi/, but that’s probably too Irish for the Cincinnati area.

  17. Myself, I’d even limit blonde to the nominal usage, so that, as it were, a blonde would be blond.

    That’s my usage too — I always figured it was standard. There are some nouns that English has borrowed with their native inflections, but no adjectives that I can think of.

  18. J.W. Brewer says:

    Conventions like these in the old days were for publishing houses (and maybe some newspapers) with fancy typesetting options available to them that required substantial investments in the requisite hardware. Normal Anglophones, working with the limited resources of typewriters or handwriting, have generally always managed to scrape by with zero diacritical marks even for fancy-shmancy foreign words. That modern software makes it *possible* for people of modest resources to deploy diacritical marks in a way that would not have been possible for them in the old days doesn’t mean they need to feel any obligation to give in to prescriptivist pressure to do so.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    And surely in Switzerland you’d have to interpret Müsli as “small mouse”?

    Of course.

  20. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I find myself desiring to refrain from diacritic usage just to spite List. As I’ve matured, I’ve grown more and more fond of a well-placed diacritic, sometimes several per letter, but I feel a bit put out by the implication that any English word requires them. e.g. in my experience the spelling “facade” is more common than “façade” (which my phone’s spell-check has marked as an error). Maybe there are a very small number of exceptions that would look weird without diacritics: “Emily Bronte” makes me vaguely uncomfortable.

  21. Come now, she’s just being a journo, she doesn’t give a damn if you use them or not. And you can hardly write pate for pâté.

  22. Michael Eochaidh says:

    Family legend has it that Eochaidh (more likely Eochaidha) is the source of the now thoroughly anglicized surname Haughey, which is pronounced “Hoy” (maybe /hɔɪ/ in IPA but don’t hold me to that). I was going to use Eochaidh as a pseudonym but nobody can pronounce either version.

  23. Ah, thanks very much!

  24. And you can hardly write pate for pâté.

    Googling for [pâté food -recipe] pulls up lots of instances of pate and paté without the always-useless circumflex. Indeed, the third one is a Whole Foods page giving the names of various pâtés, all of them spelled “pate”. Cat food comes in different types of which pate or paté is one.

  25. OK, OK, I meant “you can hardly write pate for pâté without getting very stern looks from copyeditors.” Hell, you can do whatever you damn please.

  26. A cafe, pronounced /keif/ and rhyming with safe, is a downmarket café in the UK, although the word is less commonly heard now than formerly.

    Caff ([kæf]) also exists: even more downmarket.

    I stand corrected! (Actually I’m sitting down.)

    OED says this about café (they use the diacritic):

    Forms: Also vulgarly or jocularly pronounced /keɪf/ or /kæf/, and written in the form cafe; cf. caff n.

    But am I to understand that there are speakers for whom /keɪf/ isn’t a humorous mispronunciation-on-purpose of French but a whole separate word with a meaning distinguished from “café”? Like, someone might say “That place is really more of a /keɪf/ than a café” and not mean it as a joke? That’s fantastic.

    (Incidentally, I had heard “caf(f)” before, but only ever in contexts where it made sense to interpret it as short for “cafeteria.”)

  27. I’m most familiar with /kæf/ from when I used to watch EastEnders. I always mentally spelled it caf. As I recall the woman who ran the caf was named Kathy and sometimes called Kath, but I don’t remember anyone remarking on the homophony in cockney pronunciation.

  28. There are some nouns that English has borrowed with their native inflections, but no adjectives that I can think of.

    How does English usually cope with Latino/Latina or Filipino/Filipina as an adjective? I can’t decide if it should be “She is Latina” or “She is Latino”, though the former gets almost three times as many ghits.

    Do you prefer naïveté, naiveté, naivete, or naivety?

  29. Alon: matë is drunk by Albanian gauchos.

    It was a lot of fun when faux-Italian cafés became fashionable in the US, following the faux-French ones. Cafès and caffés all over the place, serving lattés.

  30. Do you prefer naïveté, naiveté, naivete, or naivety?

    My impression is that naïve and naivety are more British, naive and naïveté more American. “Go figure”, or as they say in Blighty, “Make of that what you will”.

    Haughey, which is pronounced “Hoy” (maybe /hɔɪ/ in IPA but don’t hold me to that).

    In Ireland, “Haughey” is /ˈhɒhi/ or /ˈhɔhi/. Former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey was the subject of hee-haw jokes back in the day. Lots of anglicised spellings VhV and VghV of Irish words have /VhV/ in Ireland but /Vː/ in those parts of the anglosphere where phonotactic constraints are less amenable to aspirates. “Drogheda” is /ˈdrɒhɪdə/ in Ireland, but /drɒgˈidə/ in the “Thorn Birds” miniseries, and /ˈdrɔɪdə/ in a few limericks where it’s rhymed with “avoid her” and the like.

  31. Here in the US, I’ve often heard (and, myself, tend to use) metathesized pronunciations of Flaherty and Doherty, like Flarrity, Dorrity.

  32. matë is drunk by Albanian gauchos

    Mate-drinkers of Albanian ancestry exist, though I suspect few of them ever qualified as gauchos. Most Albanian immigrants to Argentina settled in Berisso, where the industrial boom of the 1920s and 30s offered employment in the textile, chemical, steel and shipbuilding industries.

    Ernesto Sábato, a brilliant writer who (I think) hasn’t been discussed chez Hat before, was partly of Albanian ancestry on his mother’s side.

  33. I can’t decide if it should be “She is Latina” or “She is Latino”

    To me, at least, the latter sounds very weird. I’ve tried to find other borrowed (as opposed to adapted) gendered adjectives of nationality, but without success. There is also Latinx (pronounced as if Latinex), which is about ten years old. If you use it, you will experience the weird sensation of being patted on the head by Latinxes who will be glad you acknowledge gender neutrality, while simultaneously being kicked in the belly by Latinos y Latinas who resent your appropriation and mockery of the Spanish or Castilian language.

  34. The New Yorker is famous for a few things, one of them is a long-standing affair with diaereses:

    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-curse-of-the-diaeresis

  35. To me, at least, the latter sounds very weird.

    Huh. Doesn’t sound weird to me, and I speak Spanish; to me, importing Spanish gendered adjectives into English is what sounds weird.

  36. But “Latinx” sounds much weirder, and I can’t bring myself to use it. What a bizarre thing to invent.

  37. There’s also “Latin@.” I have no idea how to pronounce it, if in fact it ever is.

  38. Rodger: I think it is not; Latinx was invented to create a pronounceable form, I suppose.

    Hat, what’s your intuition (if any) about “She is Zairoise”?

  39. J.W. Brewer says:

    One occasionally finds “bonne vivante” used in English to refer to a woman, but using “bon vivant” to refer to females as well as males seems notably more common. But the gendered-in-language-of-origin feature of “bon vivant” is perhaps less obvious than in the Latino v. Latina pair? Although I have some sense that the gendered nature of “alumnus” as contrasted with “alumna” has been slipping away. There is a more general trend in English where discomfort with gendered terms sometimes leads to the formerly male term become equal-opportunity but other times leads to the invention of a new term, and which is handled which way seems somewhat unpredictable and ad hoc. Compare the expansion of “actor” to sometimes include “actress” with the rising popularity of “server” to replace the waiter/waitress pair entirely. If we are not consistent in our handling of our own longstanding lexicon it’s unlikely we’re going to be consistent with fairly recent and perhaps not entirely domesticated loanwords.

  40. J.W. Brewer says:

    BTW “Latinx” may be possible to pronounce for Anglophones but is allegedly totally baffling to Hispanophones who have not acquired fluency in English, leading to its condemnation in certain circles as imperialistic and appropriative. http://swarthmorephoenix.com/2015/11/19/the-argument-against-the-use-of-the-term-latinx/

    Now if it were “Latinix” and its masculine singular genitive were “Latinicis” I’d know exactly how to decline it …

  41. Hat, what’s your intuition (if any) about “She is Zairoise”?

    My intuition is that it would be said by a speaker of French or someone who has spent time in Francophone Africa. It’s certainly not a thing that would naturally be said by a speaker of English, who would very likely say “She is from Zaire.” At any rate, that’s what I’d say.

  42. Marja Erwin says:

    At least we aren’t assimilating these forms to Old English substantives, with masculine *Latina, neuter *Latine, and feminine *Latine…

  43. Graham Asher says:

    “A cafe, pronounced /keif/ and rhyming with safe, is a downmarket café in the UK

    I have lived in the UK for decades and never heard that. Perhaps you are thinking of “caff”.”

    Well, there are no doubt a lot of words used in this country that you haven’t heard, and I haven’t heard, and any given subset of people haven’t heard. I’ve lived in England since 1957 and hear new words all the time. You’re right, caff also exists, and I have heard it too, though not recently.

  44. David Marjanović says:

    Now if it were “Latinix” and its masculine singular genitive were

    That actually looks like Latin words of quite indeterminate gender. 🙂

  45. But “Latinx” sounds much weirder, and I can’t bring myself to use it. What a bizarre thing to invent.

    Not so weird, I think, considering that x has been used to symbolise an unknown value since Descartes, and the whole point of the neologism is to underscore that the gender of the referent is unknown (rather than male). A similar substitution yields the gender-neutral honorific Mx.

    Me, I’d favour Latine.

  46. Not so weird, I think, considering that x has been used to symbolise an unknown value since Descartes

    I really don’t see what mathematical usage has to do with language. I think the gender-neutral honorific Mx is weird too, but at least that’s only meant for written usage.

  47. Mx can be pronounced /mks/ (or with an epenthetic vowel).

  48. matematichica says:

    I ran into LatinX recently—I think the capital is meant to be a visual cue about the x not playing it’s usual role. This was in the context of something addressed to the faculty and student body of a US university that does not serve a primarily latino/a population, so presumably familiarity with English is a reasonable expectation, but I don’t know who decided on that terminology or what their thought process was. I have also encountered Latin@, which I typically pronounce as “latino-a,” just adding the “a” sound after I say “latino” in the usual way.

    Of course, I pronounce “s/he” as “sh-he” with “sh” like in the beginning of “shush.” Perhaps this is not standard. And now I tend to just go with singular they anyway.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Some years ago the “Canadian Pacific” airline expanded its business range from regional to national and even international. It shortened its name to reflect its wider ambitions, shedding the word “Pacific” which had indicated Its regional location. But in order to show its national relevance it was not wise to use just the English word “Canadian”. The problem was solved by using the logo Canadi@n, which could be interpreted as either English or French (“Canadien”) without appearing to favour one or the other language. (It turned out the company had been overambitious, and it went out of business after a few years).

  50. JC: “If you use it, you will experience the weird sensation of being patted on the head by Latinxes who will be glad you acknowledge gender neutrality, while simultaneously being kicked in the belly by Latinos y Latinas who resent your appropriation and mockery of the Spanish or Castilian language.”

    There are women who hate being called Ms. and strongly prefer Miss or Mrs. Know your audience.

  51. January First-of-May says:

    Mx can be pronounced /mks/ (or with an epenthetic vowel).

    “Mx” just reminds me of that one mischievous imp whose name starts with those two letters (and is, in fact, just barely pronounceable without obvious epenthetic vowels, in the Czech way, but if you aren’t accustomed to Czech-style consonant clusters, the traditional canon pronunciation isn’t actually that far off).

    I can’t recall ever seeing it used as a gender-neutral reference, but then I can’t recall ever seeing it used to refer to the imp either – references to him usually include at least the third letter (which happens to be a vowel).

  52. Indeed, sometimes one choice of language is inappropriate, and yet the favored alternative is itself inappropriate in another context. What can one do.

  53. I really don’t see what mathematical usage has to do with language.

    It’s not as if this is the first time this usage has been extended outside algebra. Think Malcolm X, X factor, X-rays, etc.

    I think the gender-neutral honorific Mx is weird too, but at least that’s only meant for written usage.

    Uh, no. Jack Monroe, probably one of the most visible enbys in the UK, was regularly referred to as ‘Mx Jack Monroe’ in the news when they announced their (subsequently withdrawn) candidacy for the Southend West parliamentary constituency. This (surprisingly non-bigoted) Telegraph article shows other contexts in which people expect it to be used in speech. I can’t sear what the honorific was meant for, but it’s definitely pronounceable and pronounced .

  54. There used to be an establishment in my city calling itself the Cöntinentäl Food Bär (there were diaereses on the other o’s as well but the damn spellchecker corrected them). I never went in there, but having studied foreign languages I always mentally pronounced it with the vowels modified appropriately.

  55. And you’re lucky you didn’t go there, the Bär might have eaten you. :-;

  56. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve encountered the assertion that Mx is pronounced “mix”. That has interesting implications of its own…

  57. the Bär might have eaten you
    Or, if it is Swedish, you could have eaten them.

  58. Latinå

  59. I’ve encountered the assertion that Mx is pronounced “mix”. That has interesting implications of its own…

    I’ve heard mostly /məks/ (/mʌks/ when stressed contrastively), but apparently /mɪks/ is also attested. That would tally with a full form *Mixter, which I’ve however never found in the wild.

  60. There are women who hate being called Ms. and strongly prefer Miss or Mrs. Know your audience.

    It’s not so much the people being addressed, it’s those who see fit to be offended on their behalf. My mother was Mrs. Cowan, my wife is Ms. Cowan, and I have no trouble with that. “The great thing about standards is that there are so many choose from — and if you don’t like any of them, wait until next year.”

    I’ve encountered the assertion that Mx is pronounced “mix”.

    In AmE, where Ms. got started, it is pronounced with the same KIT vowel as Mr., Miss, Mrs., and indeed Mistress; but in the UK it is (I am told) pronounced with the minimal STRUT vowel. I would expect Mx to go much the same way.

    As for the imp, his title is Mr.

  61. I’ve read that Ms. has an antecedent in an informal Southern pronunciation of Mrs. My suggestion for a “full” written form of it, in the vanishingly rare cases where one is needed, would be Mis’ – on the pattern of Mis’ess, which shows up in some older texts.

    (English actually seems anomalous among Euro languages in having its “Mrs.” term be more elaborate than its “Miss” term. Usually you can just equalize things by lopping off a suffix: Fräulein to Frau, Señorita to Señora, Mademoiselle to Madame.)

  62. @John Cowan:. In Rumpole of the Bailey, the socialist feminist Luz Probert is sarcastically called Miz Liz, which seems to indicate more or less the same pronunciation as in American English. (Of course, the after-the-fact short stories, in which “Miz Liz” appears are generally quite inferior to the original teleplays.)

  63. ODO and Collins show Miz as an additional pronunciation in BrE. Cambridge shows both pronunciations in both varieties, but I have never heard Muzz in AmE. Macmillan does not show the word at all in its BrE dictionary.

  64. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think that southern predecessor of Ms. went national during the 1976 election when the press corps discovered Jimmy Carter’s rather colorful mother, who was commonly known as “Miz Lillian.”

  65. Ah yes, I remember those days — there was also Ham Jordan, pronounced “Jerdan.”

  66. Matthew Roth says:

    From my university: “As Kentucky’s premiere metropolitan research university…”

    Obviously, we don’t need the accent grave to distinguish it from the semi-vowel. The agreement is correct, even if I occasionally forget it; my undergraduate institution has a name which has adjectives that are, depending on the choice, like above or adding an “e” denasalizes the vowel instead of simply pronouncing a silent consonant. As an aside, I’m taking French phonetics, and it is excellent.

    What is interesting is that the feminine form is also a noun in English, meaning the first showing. Generally, in this context, I expect the masculine form. But that’s not really how it would be used in French. Also, “premier” is a superlative of sorts; you could easily say ”best,” “most excellent,” etc. But it’s weird to say that when the other schools have other functions, even if they are research universities. UK is essentially a land-grant school, although it has a fantastic languages dept.

  67. I would suspect that that premiere there meant ‘first’ rather than ‘best’.

  68. I would suspect not. In fact, I would bet money on it.

  69. I didn’t say I suspect it, but that I would suspect it, given a lack of context.

  70. marie-lucie says:

    Matthew: What is interesting is that the feminine form is also a noun in English, meaning the first showing. Generally, in this context, I expect the masculine form. But that’s not really how it would be used in French.

    In French, when referring to theatre or similar forms of entertainment, the first public show is called la première, short for la première représentation. The adjective is treated as a noun, preserving the gender of the original noun. Some theatregoers prefer to go to une première, others to attend une générale, meaning une répétition générale, the last official rehearsal for a play, opera, etc where last minute changes can still be made.

    I think there are cases where premier/première means “tops” rather than ‘first’ but none of them come to mind at the moment.

  71. I think there are cases where premier/première means “tops” rather than ‘first’ but none of them come to mind at the moment.

    The obvious such case is press-release puffery, as in: “As Kentucky’s premiere metropolitan research university…”

  72. marie-lucie says:

    In English I would have no problem finding examples, but I meant in French.

  73. Apropos [à propos] the Oxford Dictionaries source, OED2 (1989) has Charlotte Bronte as both “C. Brontë” and “C. Bronte” (also “Charl. Bronte” and “Bronte”, but only for a couple of quots). This won’t affect anyone coming across a quot in an entry, but it significantly affected an academic article on female authors in OED (Baigent, Brewer, and Larminie, 2005), which only half counted CB, presumably because of this glitch in the data.

  74. Michael Hendry says:

    LH (7:36am):
    Way back in the Carter administration, someone (I think it was William Safire) liked to refer to the Carter adviser in print as ‘Hamilton Jördan’.

    Even earlier (early ’70s) a newly-enlightened secretary at St. John’s College (Annapolis) congratulated a middle-aged tutor (as they call professors there) for calling her ‘Ms.’. He was from Georgia, and replied (as best as I can represent it without IPA): “Why, ah bin sayin’ Mizz all ma lahf!” When I taught in Alabama twenty years later, I was glad that Mrs., Miss, and Ms. are all pronounced ‘Mizz’ in the South, because it meant I never had to worry about which one to use, except when I was putting something in writing.

  75. ə de vivre says:

    As Kentucky’s premiere metropolitan research university…

    It’s the extra adjective “metropolitan” that sends this boast into farce territory for me. It makes me think there’s a rural university in Kentucky whose research is even more premiere so they have to restrict the scope of their claims to primacy.

    Also, does “premier(e)” ever have a simply ordinal meaning in English? It seems like such an affectation to me that I have a hard time imagining it used without a value-judgment meaning…

  76. No, I think not; I was confused because I thought marie-lucie was talking about English when in fact she was talking about French.

  77. It makes me think there’s a rural university in Kentucky whose research is even more premiere so they have to restrict the scope of their claims to primacy.

    And that’s not even getting into the institute of technology that claims zériere status.

    Also, does “premier(e)” ever have a simply ordinal meaning in English?

    There are phrases like “premiere performance” that seem pretty clearly ordinal. Assuming that actors and stagehands get better with practice, it must actually be quite rare for a premiere performance to be the best in the entire run.

    In Australia, Premier is the title of the head of state government, and it seems to me that this is more of an objective metaphorical extension of ordinality (“head, chief”) than a subjective value judgment (“tops, best”). A state’s Premier is not necessarily its premiere politician.

  78. In Canada, too. The provincial and territorial heads of government are styled Premier, the federal one Prime Minister; the term for all of them jointly is first ministers. In Canadian French this distinction is not made, and they are both premier ministre; in the English of Quebec they are likewise both Prime Minister. These titles and distinctions are a matter of custom, not law.

  79. J.W. Brewer says:

    Using “premiere” rather than “premier” in a context like “premier(e) research university” strikes me as closer to Just Plain Wrong than Pretentiously Affected, yet there are actual hits out there for “premiere research university,” so what do I know? Maybe it’s the same sort of thing as centre-for-center or theatre-for-theater in a US context, i.e. definititely Pretentiously Affected but too common to call an error? Of course, orthography may not be the only problem because by saying “premier research university” instead of “leading research university” you’ve probably already set off my Pretentious Affectation alert system.

    Am I guessing right that in French the distinction between premier and premiere is simply masc v fem, and “premiere” as a noun for the debut performance of something is clipped from a fixed phrase where a now-missing feminine noun was being modified?

  80. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: Am I guessing right that in French the distinction between premier and premiere is simply masc v fem,

    Yes.

    and “premiere” as a noun for the debut performance of something is clipped from a fixed phrase where a now-missing feminine noun was being modified?

    Yes, as I wrote above it is short for première représentation ‘first show, first performance’.

  81. J.W. Brewer says:

    I apologize to m-l for not having read her prior contributions more carefully!

  82. marie-lucie says:

    No problem!

  83. ə de vivre says:

    Using “premiere” rather than “premier” in a context like “premier(e) research university” strikes me as closer to Just Plain Wrong than Pretentiously Affected

    My guess would be that the copywriter reasoned that “weirder spelling = closer to the original”. I remember being confused by the blond/blonde alternation in English, and assuming that the e-less spelling was a simplification of the e-full. Or maybe they’re using the feminine form to agree with université. I kind of enjoy the idea of the copywriter knowing that the equivalent French noun is feminine, but not having the perspective to realize what a silly line of reasoning that would be. Or maybe it’s la recherche that’s première. [premiere [research university]] or [[premiere research] university]?

  84. As a copyeditor, I can tell you the overwhelming likelihood is simply “doesn’t know how to spell or use words.”

  85. ə de vivre says:

    Bah, you can pry my unlikely speculation and wilful misinterpretation from my cold, dead, metaphorical hands.

  86. I remember seeming somewhere a recherchée idea, presumably reflecting une idée recherchée, but of course in English recherché is invariable. For that matter, the underlying noun in French could just as well be masculine for all we can tell.

  87. Well, une idée is definitely feminine. Even if it is something only a man could think of.

  88. J.W. Brewer says:

    ə de vivre’s “Bah, you can pry …” etc seems a strong contender for best internet comment of the day/week/month etc., at least if I apply a discount for personal bias to the truly awesome “Mr. Brewer, you are SO correct” (which an actual person actually said on facebook the other day …).

  89. David Marjanović says:

    ə de vivre wins this thread, if not the entire Internet forever. 🙂

  90. I should put up a plaque:

    Ə DE VIVRE COMMENTED HERE

  91. marie-lucie says:

    DO: une idée is definitely feminine. Even if it is something only a man could think of.

    Tsk, tsk ,,,,,,

  92. marie-lucie, why? It is definitely not a very good idea if it cannot come to a woman’s head.

  93. In New South Wales, we not only have a premier as head of government, but back in the 80s the state number plate slogan was “the premier state”. No doubt this was meant to have all sorts of positive connotation as well as the obvious justification of being the original British colony in Australia. In any case, it was abandoned in favour of the less pretentious “the first state”.

  94. New South Wales, Australia’s Delaware.

  95. marie-lucie says:

    DO: une idée

    I think your sentence could be interpreted in more than one way. Sorry if I misunderstood your intent.

  96. In Australia, a winning football team can also be referred to as premiers, or as winning the premiership. A team is referred to as minor premiers if it comes out at the top of the ladder at the end of the season.

    The major premiership, or merely “premiership”, would be winning the Grand Final. The Wikipedia article “Minor premiership” explains the origin of this terminology.

  97. Michael Hendry says:

    I’m not surprised that New South Wales still needs “all sorts of positive connotation”. I think it was Kingsley Amis who observed the oddity of explicitly naming a colony after only part of a province in the mother country. The namers seem to have been eager to repudiate any possible association with North Wales.

  98. Well, to be fair, “South Wales” was an established concept in the motherland, if one with a rather wobbly definition. It was more like naming it “New West Virginia” than “New East Kentucky,” if you get my drift.

    In any case, I’m not inclined to be too harsh on the namers of NSW since the names of the other states and territories are so incredibly boring. Western Australia. South Australia. Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory (we couldn’t even give our artificially constructed city-sized neutral ground a decent name). Victoria. Queensland. It’s a sad state of affairs when “Tasmania” is the most linguistically inventive name of the lot. Even more so (and in a much less humorous way) when you recall that the entire country was, of course, populated by people speaking hundreds of fascinating languages entirely unrelated to English who had names for literally everything in the landscape.

  99. marie-lucie says:

    “New South Wales” has a name in French: Nouvelles-Galles-du-Sud. “Wales” is le Pays de Galles and “the Prince of Wales” le prince de Galles.

  100. What Gall!

  101. marie-lucie says:

    So Gallic!

  102. Well, doesn’t French have a synonym for idée that is masculine?

  103. marie-lucie says:

    Not being able to think of one right away, except le concept, I looked for a synonym on the TLFI. Fat chance! there are several feminine choices, but the only masculine one is le rêve, which is not really a synonym. Perhaps you will find better ones in a bilingual dictionary.

  104. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I wonder at what point in the words’ histories Fr. Gaule (“Gaul”) diverged from Galles (“Wales”).

    On a tangentially related topic, does anyone know how the English word Breton acquired its mid vowel “e” in the first syllable? I’ve often noticed how Brittany has an “i” while Breton has a “e”. I take it that’s because Breton is a loan from French (or directly from Breton?) while Brittany is not. Looks like Cornish and Breton have “e” in all Britain-related words, so perhaps the French word Breton reflects developments internal to SW Brittonic? But, on the other hand, French also has the “e” in Grande-Bretagne.

    The Cornish and Breton words in question, I suppose, must be loans back from Latin Britannia, since the cognate of “Britain” in Proto-Brythonic had a p- initial.

  105. marie-lucie says:

    Greg: Gaule is from Latin Gallia, an adaptation of a Celtic name, from a root gall- but the history must be a little more complicated because with the “normal” Northern French evolution the name should probably have ended up as “Jauille” (or “Geauille”)..

    Breton, Bretagne : In the history of French, most if not all unstressed vowels lost their distinctive features and ended up as schwa.

  106. Greg Pandatshang says:

    whoa, I thought the view was unanimous that Gaule is from the *walha- root, not from Gallia.

  107. Wiktionary has a fairly detailed discussion.

  108. marie-lucie says:

    Merci LH. I vaguely remember that the topic was discussed here quite some time ago.

    Even if the Latin stem gall- ultimately came from a Germanic walh-, the homophony of Gallus “Gaulois” and gallus ‘rooster’ must have been established quite early. The ‘rooster’ word survived in some Occitan varieties, e.g. Gascon ‘gal’, sometimes ‘gat’.

  109. You’re probably thinking of this thread; see your comment here. [Edit: You may have to scroll down from there; in those long threads the comment anchors get detached.]

  110. Greg Pandatshang says:

    So, if the orthographic “e” in Breton is purely due to French vowel reduction, that means it’s a coincidence that it also appears in related Southwestern Brittonic words, e.g. Bret. “Breizh”, Corn. “Breten Vian”? It also means that the English pronunciation with /ɛ/ is a spelling pronunciation. Neither of these premises is implausible. Story checks out.

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